Shared research stations in Antarctica: The holy grail of international cooperation, or just a nice idea?
The evolution of the Antarctic Treaty System has established scientific research, international cooperation in science and environmental protection as the main pillars in which Antarctic activities, management and governance are based. But Antarctic research stations are still operated by a single Nation, with the exception of Concordia, the uniq bi-national base operated jointly by France and Italy.
The placement of infrastructure on certain places in Antarctica has long been played a practical, ritual and symbolic role in safeguarding (or countering) territorial claims and of keeping a foothold in a region recognised as terra nullius. Many research stations were established before the signature of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, and it could be assumed that one of the key motivations to establish them concerned asserting territorial interests by exerting effective occupation. However, Art. IV of the Antarctic Treaty puts territorial claims on hold, and establishes that "no acts or activities taking place while the present Treaty is in force shall constitute a basis for asserting, supporting or denying a claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica or create any rights of sovereignty in Antarctica." (Art. IV (2)). By removing potential tensions emerging from claims of territorial sovereignty, the safeguarding international peace and ensuring the freedom of scientific research became the two pillars of the Antarctic Treaty (see e.g. Bastmeijer and Roura 2004).
The adoption of the 1991 Protocol of Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (PEP) added environmental protection as an additional pillar of Antarctic governance and politics. Art. 3 of the PEP establishes that "the protection of the Antarctic environment...and the intrinsic value of Antarctica, including its wilderness and aesthetic values and its value as an area for the conduct of scientific research...shall be fundamental considerations in the planning and conduct of all activities in the Antarctic Treaty area." The wording "all activities", in this context, includes the establishment and operation of research stations. Art. 6 of the PEP establishes that "The Parties shall co-operate in the planning and conduct of activities in the Antarctic Treaty area" (Art. 6 (1)) and to that effect, Parties shall endeavour to "...where appropriate, undertake joint expeditions and share the use of stations and other facilities" (Art. 6 (1) (e); emphasis added). This is because the PEP recognises that expeditions and the use of facilities imply an impact on the Antarctic environment.
The bi-national station Concordia is operated jointly by France and Italy - © Eoin MACDONALD
Art. 8 on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) requires "prior assessment of the impacts of those activities on the Antarctic environment or on dependent or associated ecosystems according to whether those activities are identified as having a less than, equal, or more than a minor or transitory impact". In practice, Antarctic Treaty states have generally recognised that establishing a permanent research facility will have a "more than a minor and transitory impact". Consequently, the EIAs submitted for proposed new stations have been of the kind known as "Comprehensive Environmental Evaluations" (CEEs), which is the higher of three levels established under the PEP. Unlike the other two, lower levels of EIA, CEEs have more substantial requirements for the proponents including greater public and international scrutiny of the proposal as well as the mandatory monitoring of environmental impacts (Bastmeijer and Roura 2008, Hemmings and Kriwoken 2010).
Overall, the evolution of the Antarctic Treaty System has established scientific research, international cooperation in science and environmental protection as the main pillars in which Antarctic activities, management and governance are based. Consequently, it could have been expected that the pre-1959 trend towards establishing a national physical presence in the Antarctica would have been replaced after the adoption and entry into force of the PEP by a trend towards greater international cooperation including the sharing of research stations.
Joint research stations would result in greater international scientific and logistic cooperation and reduced environmental impact, thus reinforcing the pillars of the Antarctic Treaty System (and reducing costs too). From this perspective, station sharing could be seen as the holy grail of international cooperation in Antarctica, symbolizing a long term commitment to the system of international governance regime in place and the maturity and stability of this regime. How has this worked in practice, and why? This article examines ongoing trends in the development of Antarctic research stations and related facilities, and discusses what is behind these developments, with an emphasis on events during the past decade.
Distribution of the 84 Antarctic Permanent and Summer stations - © Le Cercle Polaire
A brief overview of Antarctic station establishment
The first Antarctic facility was established in 1898 at Cape Adare by the British Antarctic Expedition 1898–1900 in which the first overwinter in mainland Antarctica took place. This was followed by the establishment of several base camps a range of facilities that supported expeditions during the Heroic age of Antarctic exploration (1898-1922). None of these early facilities was supposed to be permanent. Most of the surviving facilities have been designated as protected Historic Sites, and some of those have been actively preserved and have become regular tourism destinations (Roura 2011). The oldest operational research station in Antarctica is Argentina's Orcadas Station, which has been operating continuously since 1904 at the site previously used by the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition 1902-1904. No other station established in Antarctica for the following three decades is still in operation, although Antarctic exploration continued for much of this time.
Starting in 1923, Antarctic territorial claims resulted in a progressive Antarctic-wide "land grab", led by the seven claimant states and semi-claimants Soviet Union and USA, which resulted in the establishment of a number of stations through the continent and surrounding islands. The 1957-1959 International Geophysical Year resulted in the development of additional infrastructure and culminated with the signature of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty. As noted by Hemmings (2011), the IGY saw the establishment of three international stations operated by two or three countries; however, none of those continued operating much longer following the end of the IGY.
The Australian station Casey - © Paul Dudley AAD
In the 1980s, a raft of new nations appeared on the Antarctic stage, partly as consequence of a growing interest in Antarctic mineral resources and the negotiation of an Antarctic mineral resource exploitation regime. Most of these relative newcomers established one or more bases in the Antarctic region. In subsequent years, some of the nations already in Antarctica built more stations. In contrast, a comparatively small number of nations either "froze" their footprint or reduced it by e.g. removing unwanted stations or transferring them to other national Antarctic programs, as it has been the case of Brazil and the United Kingdom, respectively. More recently, some of the countries that were relative newcomers in the 1980s have built on several decades of Antarctic experience and expanded their presence in the region - notably the Republic of Korea and China.
Establishment of Antarctic research stations, by decade
In all, station construction has continued uninterrupted since the first permanent facility was established early in the XX century, with station establishment peaking in the decades 1940s, 1950s, and 1980s (Fig. 1). The vast majority of those stations, and those that were constructed subsequently, were operated by a single Party. As noted by Hemmings (2011), an international research station was developed ahead of a truly international Antarctic station. To date, the only truly joint station is Concordia Station, jointly built and operated by France and Italy, even though there are instances of facility sharing by Australia and Romania, Argentina and Germany, Chile and Germany, and the UK and The Netherlands. In those later instances, however, the major partners retain ownership of most facilities.
The relatively limited number of shared facilities does not necessarily mean that there is no international scientific cooperation (ATCM XXXVII Final Report, para. 304; COMNAP 2014). A 2014 survey of National Antarctic Programs (NAPs) noted that every one of the 29 members of the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP) had participated in or provided support for international scientific cooperation in Antarctica and in home institutions. Since the first COMNAP Survey in 1997, there had been a 30 per cent average increase in international cooperation across all the COMNAP National Antarctic Programmes. It noted that only one out of the 29 COMNAP members had responded “no” to the question: “Within the past ten years, has your National Antarctic Programme been involved in international scientific collaboration, partnerships or joint research?” This meant that 96 per cent of COMNAP members had engaged in international scientific collaboration. It also noted that only two out of 29 COMNAP members had responded “no” to the question: “Within the past ten years, has your National Antarctic Programme shared any facilities with any other national Antarctic programme?” This meant that 93 per cent had shared logistics (ATCM XXXVII Final Report, para. 304; COMNAP 2014).
Research stations and scientific research output
As noted above, infrastructure in Antarctica has continuously increased in the past decades. The number of Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties has also increased during that time. Each of these countries, in order to be recognised as a Consultative Party with decision-making powers, was required to "demonstrate its interest in Antarctica by conducting substantial research activity there" (Antarctic Treaty, Art. IX (2)). In the vast majority of cases this requirement has been met through the establishment of a research station - the only notable exception has been, and remains, The Netherlands, which became a Consultative Party in 1990 while fully meeting Antarctic Treaty scientific research requirements without establishing its own station. However, what has been the impact of infrastructure development - in particular the presence of research stations - on scientific research output? To answer this question, this paper examines three sources looking at scientific research in Antarctica from various perspectives.
King Georges Island count 12 stations depending on the Chilean military aircraft for most of their logistics - © Mefisto29
Dastidar (2007) reviewed productivity and collaboration in Antarctic science. Journal publications on Antarctic science were analysed for the period 1980–2004. A range of analysis techniques were applied to 10,942 records with the word fragment “antarc*” in the title published in 961 international, peer-reviewed journals and retrieved from the Science Citation Index database. During those 25 years, productivity increased threefold. The five nations with the highest output were the USA (with 26.7% of the total output), the UK (13.8%), Australia (9.7%), Germany (8.8%) and Italy (6.0%).
Roura (2008) examined the relationship between research facilities and scientific research output in Antarctica between 1980 and 2003, on the basis of COMNAP data and an earlier review of Antarctic scientific literature. In that period, the most productive ATCPs in terms of publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals operated three or four facilities, but so did ATCPs that were (sometimes considerably) less productive. Scientific research output of Parties with no stations was not substantially inferior to those with five or more facilities.
Dudeney and Walton (2012) examined leadership in politics and science within the Antarctic Treaty using counts of policy and scientific papers, to assess the political and scientific research outputs of all ATCPs over the period 1992-2010. Data on peer-reviewed scientific publications were abstracted from the Web of Knowledge (http://wok.mimas.ac.uk/) using “antarct*” as the keyword, following the methods of earlier work by Dastidar & Persson (2005). Policy papers were primarily collected from Antarctic Treaty Secretariat data. These authors concluded that "...a subset of the original 12 Treaty signatories, consisting of the seven claimant nations, the USA and Russia, not only set the political agenda for the continent but also provide most of the science, with those ATCPs producing the most science generally having the greatest political influence".
Building on these various assessments, Figures 2-4 contrast the scientific research output of Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties with the infrastructure that existed in 2004 . In brief:
• Figure 2 includes all facilities by all ATCPs (2004 data) with their scientific research output, as assessed by the production of publications, in the period 1980–2004.There is a weak positive linear relationship between infrastructure and scientific research output.
Antarctic stations and scientific research output of all ATCPs, 1980-2004. (Scientific research output in this and subsequent figures as assessed by Dastidar, 2007, p. 176).
• Figure 3 includes all facilities (2004 data) but only listing the ten nations with the highest scientific research output in the period 1980–2004.There is no correlation between infrastructure and scientific research output.
Antarctic stations and scientific research output of the ten most productive ATCPs, 1980-2004 (productivity as assessed by Dastidar, 2007).
• Figure 4 compares all facilities (2004 data) but only listing the nine "most influential" ATCPs as identified by Dudeney and Walton (2012). In this case there is a weak negative linear relationship between infrastructure and scientific research output.
Antarctic stations and scientific research output for the nine "most influential" ATCPs, 1980-2004 ("most influential" status as assessed by Dudeney and Walton, 2012).
It should be noted that the analysis made here refers to infrastructure and scientific research output up to 2004. Factors such as the International Polar Year 2007-2008 would have boosted considerably scientific research output, as well as the development of new infrastructure of different kinds. Consequently, a comparable analysis for the period to 2014 may well show a higher scientific output. It should be mentioned that these developments, while positive to science, would have had associated cumulative environmental impacts too (ASOC 2008).
To assess scientific activity at research stations since 2004, recent official inspections under the Antarctic Treaty and the Protocol were examined. Article VII of the Antarctic Treaty and Article 14 of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty enable Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties to conduct inspections in order to promote the objectives and ensure compliance with the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty and its Protocol. Inspection reports since 2004 have remarked on the conduct of research stations ranging from globally significant science at some stations, to limited scientific activity at other stations (ASOC 2014, Table 2).
This document does not attempt to analyse inspection results in any detail, including with respect to scientific research output. However, inspection reports seem to corroborate the various analyses above. As a whole, operating an Antarctic station is not required to achieve Consultative status, nor it gives certainty that high quality scientific research will come out of it.
The last decade
In 2004 - one hundred years since the establishment of the first permanent Antarctic station - at least five new Antarctic national stations were proposing or planning new stations (Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, India and the Republic of Korea). Other significant infrastructure projects underway at the time included substantial upgrades of existing national stations, the development of air links to various locations in Antarctica and related runways, and an ice road to the South Pole. At the time there were at lest 73 established stations (whether full year or summer only), maintained by 26 States already operating in the Antarctic Treaty Area.
The list of established facilities has been updated by COMNAP in recent years, including some new facilities and also facilities that existed before but were not included in the original list. The updated COMNAP list contains 103 facilities. Of these, 82 are classified as "stations", and the remaining classified as "camps" or "refuges". Some of these facilities also include runways of different kinds, and some are joined by maintained roads. 41 of the stations are operated year round, and the remaining only in summer. Several relevant events have taken place between 2004 and 2014:
• All but one of the stations planned in 2004 and listed above have been completed or are near completion.
• Between 2007-2008 the International Polar Year took place. As with earlier IPYs/IGY, this was accompanied by a major scientific effort, linked also to a number of infrastructure projects of different kinds. These included both new infrastructure that was explicitly planned under IPY activities and additional infrastructure that was developed in Antarctica during the same period (ASOC, 2006).
• In 2009 Kunlun Station was built by China at Dome A, an isolated inland location, followed in 2014 by Taishan, a substantial field camp on the traverse joining Kunlun Station and Zhongshan Station in the coast. The three facilities are joined by a traverse.
• In 2013, at least one non Consultative Party to the Antarctic Treaty (Turkey) stated its intention to build its own station in due course (XXXVI ATCM Final Report, paragraph 165) while another (Colombia) announced its intention to establish a national research programme with an expedition to Antarctica in 2014/2015(XXXVI ATCM Final Report, paragraphs 29, 164).
• In 2014, Belarus and China submitted CEEs for proposed new stations, both of which will be located nearby one or more other stations, and one of which is in a near-pristine area.
• 16 CEEs and 81 IEEs were produced since 2004 for the construction/operation of facilities http://ats.aq/devAS/ep_eia_list.aspx?lang=e.
Other developments contributed to stabilise or reduce the human footprint on Antarctica:
• In 2005 South Africa removed Emergency Base (E-Base).
• In 2006 the Law-Racoviţă Station was inaugurated at the location of Australia's Law Station, originally established in 1986.
• In 2012 the Dirk Gerritz Laboratory, operated by The Netherlands, was incorporated into the UK's Rothera station.
• In 2012 Halley V Research Station (UK) was removed and replaced by Halley VI Research Station.
The South Korean station Jang Bogo was inaugurated on February 2014 - © Yonhap
No other facilities were removed, nor shared facilities created, between 2004 and 2014. Some of the new or proposed stations are of a considerable size by Antarctic standards. The alternative of sharing stations received only cursory consideration in recent CEEs for proposed new stations. For instance, the draft CEE for the proposed Chinese station in the Ross Sea (a 184 pages document) considered alternative locations, sites, and designs but did not consider the alternative of building shared facilities, and considered only briefly sharing existing facilities in the region:
Italy’s Mario Zucchelli Station, Germany’s Gondwana Station and Korean Jang Bogo Station are located in the northeast of the proposed site. However, Mario Zucchelli Station and Gondwana Station are being operated only in the summer and are relatively small-scale facilities. As such, they cannot provide sufficient support for the various Antarctic scientific research activities that China is planning to undertake. Korean Jang Bogo Station is just under construction (China 2013: 84).
Paradoxically, some of the new stations have been portrayed as potential platforms for scientific cooperation with other NAPs.
On balance, the number of stations and other facilities in Antarctica has increased since 2004 (Fig. 1), including through the occupation of formerly near-pristine sites, following an upwards trend that started in the 1940s-1950s, with a corresponding increase of the human footprint on the environment. It should be noted that stations are only one of a broader typology of Antarctic facilities; although not the focus of this paper, several multi-season land-based tourism camps became operational in this period too.
There is substantive cooperation in Antarctica, but it does not extend as far as the sharing of stations, which has additional advantages in terms of reducing the environmental footprint of Antarctic research. According to COMNAP (2014) joint stations are not the only indicator of international cooperation in Antarctica and may not be the only way to reduce impacts from Antarctic activities. Most Antarctic stations while not run jointly are shared with scientists from other countries. Such sharing of facilities and provision of support provides the basis for scientific collaboration in Antarctic research. COMNAP (2014) further suggests that cooperation across national Antarctic program activity includes significant levels of collaboration and sharing outside of the Antarctic area. COMNAP (2014:7) notes that this is quite positive considering that there are "obvious barriers" to international collaboration, which include:
• Variations in organisational structure and annual funding across the range of “small” and “large” national Antarctic programs;
• Reduction in annual funding within national Antarctic programs which may limit its ability to host international collaborators or to participate in international science projects;
• Disparity between various national policies and objectives;
• Lack of country-to-country Memoranda of Understanding on Antarctic matters;
• Geography, with regional cooperation more easily manageable then whole of the world or whole of the Antarctic approaches;
• Language differences; and
• Lack of capital investment on Antarctic-related infrastructure.
Hemmings (2011) noted that although international scientific cooperation in Antarctica is well developed, joint facilities are the exception rather than the rule. This situation not only is anomalous considering potential advantages in scientific cooperation, associated logistic effort and cost, and lowered environmental footprint, but also contrast with the situation in space where some of the same states engaged in Antarctica have managed to collaborate on an International Space Station. Hemmings (2014:5) suggests that the critical factor appears to be "the unresolved situation around territorial sovereignty and consequential jurisdiction in Antarctica. So far as it relates to stations, scientific cooperation appears secondary to national autonomy in the selection of locations for other reasons." Furthermore, Hemmings (2011: 13) also identifies the potential "zero sum game" that would result from claimant states - which tend to concentrate their activities in the geographic sectors they claim - in internationalizing activities within the territory they claim (and in addition, through tensions resulting from excessive internationalization of Antarctic institutions, notwithstanding the support of all claimant states to those institutions).
DROMLAND air transport logistic network in Queen Maud Land
Source : ALCI, http://www.alci.co.za/
Overall, there are a number of barriers to the sharing of stations - some are practical, logistic, and cultural, while others have their origin in Antarctic geopolitics. However, it should be noted Antarctic geopolitics is not only about territorial claims, which are currently "frozen" by the Antarctic Treaty - and therefore of greater interest in the longer term rather than at present - in theory at least. Antarctic geopolitics is also about maintaining an active presence in the Antarctic, which translates into leadership and influence in the Antarctic Treaty System, and a greater say on how the Antarctic region is governed, now and in the foreseeable future.
Recent CEEs for several proposed research stations suggest that the station has a minimum proposed lifetime of about 25 years. The eventual removal of the stations is however unlikely - only a fraction of research stations have ever been removed in recent decades (e.g. NZ's Vanda Station in the Dry Valleys, which was removed in 1995). Instead, some programs that were unable to operate their stations decided to "mothball" them. For instance the Soviet Union closed down its station at Leningradskaya in 1991, in coincidence with dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the station was only visited again by Russian officials twenty years later. So it is most likely that the majority of the facilities established today will still be operational many years into the future, whether or not they are still actively producing substantive scientific research. (For a review of changes in the use of Antarctic research stations see Roura,2008).
What about the future of the Antarctic Treaty System? On the one hand, the Antarctic Treaty System remains strong and appears likely to remain in force indefinitely. The Antarctic Treaty provides that any party can call for a review conference after the expiration of 30 years since its entry into force. So far, no party has called for a review - an opportunity that opened in 1991, thirty years after it entered into force. In addition, increasingly more nations are acceding the Antarctic Treaty. For instance, Malaysia, which raised the Question of Antarctica at the United Nations General Assembly in 1983 as a challenge to the primacy of the Antarctic Treaty over this region, became active in Antarctic research through cooperation with other countries, acceded to the Antarctic Treaty in 2011, and will host the next biannual meeting of the Scientific Committee in Antarctic Research in 2016, which underscores Malaysia's commitment to Antarctic research. On the other hand, it possible that some Parties may be positioning themselves for a future in which the Antarctic Treaty System no longer exists, which would open opportunities for territorial occupation and resource extraction that are now not available. For instance, Russia's investigations of Antarctic mineral, hydrocarbon and other natural resources have required ensuring Parties that are not in contradiction to the ban on mineral resource activities of the PEP (see e.g. XXXV ATCM Final Report, para. 61). However, dissolving the Antarctic Treaty System would also result in challenges regarding the avoidance of international discord - the reason why the Treaty was adopted in the first place. Since Parties are aware of these opportunities and challenges one would assume that they would not take lightly actions that would lead to the dissolution of the Antarctic Treaty System. The fact is that, for most individual nations, there is more to lose by dismantling this system - whatever the disadvantages it might have for national interests - than by keeping it. This means that national Antarctic stations will more likely remain within a territory that is governed internationally.
The US station McMurdo is the largest Antarctic research and logistic settlement, welcoming as many as 1,000 people in summer - © Gaelen Marsden
The Antarctic is governed by the Antarctic Treaty System, which has been a relatively progressive regime trying to balance - not always successfully - national interests with international goals. Unlike other forms of cooperation, the sharing of research stations appears caught in tensions between national interests and international goals. Same as positioning pieces on a chess game, the placement of research stations is part of a larger game - pieces might come handy sometime in the future, and their usefulness depends not only in individual players having them in certain quantities but also on where precisely they are located.
In practice, for individual Antarctic Treaty states concerned about their own national interests it seems to makes sense to establish their own permanent facilities even though shared facilities might be better alternative ways of supporting the three pillars of the Antarctic Treaty - safeguarding international peace, ensuring the freedom of scientific research, and environmental protection. As noted earlier, station sharing could be seen as the holy grail of international cooperation in Antarctica, symbolizing a long-term commitment to the system of international governance regime in place. At present, most NAPs appear to prefer not to embark on the quest for that holy grail, but rather to support international cooperation from the comfort of their own national stations.
Parts of this paper were initially submitted to the XXXVII ATCM as IP073 by ASOC. I thank ASOC colleagues for comments on my original draft. I also thank Alan Hemmings and Laurent Mayet for discussions on the issue of facility sharing, and Michel Rocard for bravely pushing for greater Antarctic cooperation in Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings. Of course none of these people should be implicated in any errors or interpretations found in the present article.
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By Ricardo Roura, is a geomorphologist and social scientist, coordinator of ASOC's Protocol Tourism Campaigns (Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition), Advisor to the AOA Marine Protected Areas campaign, Senior Adviser at the Arctic Centre of the University of Groningen (Netherlands)
Ricardo Roura © 2015 - Le Cercle Polaire - All Rights Reserved